Tag Archives: FENG SHUI


July 15, 2022

“The interdisciplinary architect discusses his first novel, the relationship between architecture and music, and designing for everyone. Anthony Poon has a story to tell. Actually, he has many stories to tell—some in written form, others in the language of architecture, music, or painting.” So writes journalist Brian Libby for a recent article in Metropolis. Below are edited and abridged excerpts.

Death by Design at Alcatraz, by Anthony Poon, published by Goff Books, 2022

Brian Libby: Poon Design Inc. has completed over 300 projects, as chronicled in the 2020 book Live Learn Eat: Architecture by Anthony Poon. Earlier this year he was named to the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows, following national awards for educational, residential and restaurant designs. He’s also a certified Feng Shui practitioner, and recently released his debut mystery novel Death by Design at Alcatraz. Yet books are just one of Poon’s passions. He’s also a mixed-media artist and with a master’s degree in architecture. Poon trained even longer—from the age of six—to be a concert pianist. In 1987, after earning a magna cum laude in architecture and music from the University of California Berkeley, he had to decide between applying to The Julliard School and Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, ultimately choosing the latter.”

Live Learn Eat: Architecture by Anthony Poon, edited by Michael Webb, published by ORO Editions, 2020

The question of rigid composition versus improvising relates to being a pianist. Could you talk about that?

Anthony Poon: Growing up, my training was classical music. It’s this process of aiming for perfection, a flawless performance. Playing a piano sonata—there are a hundred thousand notes, and you’ve got to hit them all correctly. If I got one note off, my piano teacher would say, “That whole performance is ruined.” But I got interested in something beyond technical proficiency. You’ve got to be able to add a voice, a story. I eventually learned about jazz. It blew my mind that these pianists would just sit at the keyboard and make things up.

Anthony Poon at Ranchos Palos Verdes, California (photo by Olive Stays)

Brian: Your thesis at Harvard was about how jazz improvisation informs the architecture process. What did you learn?

Anthony: Architecture is very methodical. It takes a long time to produce a building. There are a lot of practical considerations: code, budget, square footage. You can’t just whip out a building the way a jazz musician would whip out music. But in the creative process, I always wonder: Why can’t we just grab colors and make an idea? Why can’t we have this sort of jazz-like conversation bouncing ideas and simply grab at this and that, and make it the basis of an entire building design, whether it’s a library, museum, or house?

Greenman Elementary School, Aurora, Illinois, by Anthony Poon, A4E, and Cordogan, Clark & Associates (photo by Mark Ballogg)

Brian: Let’s go back to this question of architecture and narrative. Could you talk about the importance of storytelling in design?

Anthony: It’s all about communication. Everything that I do––painting, music, writing, architecture––is all a language. In architecture, we look to our clients—who they are and what they are—to craft a story. If it’s a family, we want to know how they celebrate the holidays, if the in-laws stay with them, whether they have dogs. For designing a school, we ask: How do the teachers teach, how do the students learn? With an office: what’s the corporate culture, what’s the mission statement? When we do a religious project, there is an entire set of beliefs that need to be expressed in architecture. What’s exciting about music and architecture, and what makes them different from writing, is that they are abstract. It’s kind of open-ended communication.

Sticks and Stones | Steel and Glass: One Architect’s Journey, published by Unbridled Books, 2017

Brian: In your memoir, Sticks & Stones | Steel & Glass: One Architect’s Journey, you write about designing intimate spaces for people.

Anthony: What we talk about at my firm is that good design belongs to everyone. It could be a restaurant or the design of a bench—corporate headquarters or a public school. It’s about harnessing the talents that my team brings, and then reaching as many people as possible.

Brian: Where do you stand on the introvert-extrovert scale? Because architecture, especially when you get to a certain scale, is teamwork. Painting, which you’re also acclaimed for, is a more solitary activity.

Anthony: I’m probably somewhere in the middle but skewing a little towards the extrovert side. Some of these art forms are solo explorations, but I don’t see the art being complete until it reaches the audience. That’s the completion of the artistic arc. With any kind of artist, both introversion and extroversion are tapped. In architecture, for example, the introverted, introspective, self-examining qualities usually launch the design process, and the extroverted side leads a team, sells the idea to a client, and supports the creative ego.

top: Alleyway, 30” x 42”, 2019; bottom left: Melrose Brown, 23” x 27”, 2021; bottom right: Feeling Orange, 20” x 24”, 2019

Brian: In Sticks & Stones | Steel & Glass, you described how San Francisco’s Portsmouth Square in Chinatown inspired you. The park dates to 1833, but its 1963 redesign was derided at the time for raising the park to fit a parking garage underneath. What made it special to you and the community?

Anthony: Isn’t it incredible that it is a parking structure and an extraordinary park? The plaza acts like a blank canvas, and the community paints their life onto this canvas. It’s just that kind of wonderful, idyllic place that you don’t imagine would be in such a dense area. I look at Portsmouth Square, not as an architect fetishizing its design, but as what it offers to the community: to have a Tai Chi class at 5:00 in the morning, a wedding at noon, and kids running around in all day. That’s the power of architecture.

Portsmouth Square, Chinatown, San Francisco, California (photo by Bert Brautigam)


April 19, 2019

14th Shamarpa Reliquary Building, Natural Bridge, Virginia, by Poon Design (photo by Mark Ballogg)

Feng Shui: Some call it philosophy. Some call it art or science. And some call it superstition.

Crystals: Similar thing. Like horoscopes and fortune telling, some call the supposed energy from a rock either science or fantasy.

Architecturally, Feng Shui is often referred to as the art of placement. And the use of crystals, gemstones and geodes in architectural design can contribute in various ways to the experience of a room. For both Feng Shui and crystals, I call it the art of intention.

Citrine Geode, sold at Mystic Journey Crystals, Venice, California (photo from mysticjourneycrystals.com)
Escena Garden Residence, Palm Springs, California, by Poon Design (photo by Lance Gerber)

A Chinese philosophy dating back to 4000 BC, Feng Shui explores an enigmatic life force called Chi, and how it can bring harmony to one’s existence. With harmony and balance, one is then supported to achieve all that one wishes for, from love to wealth, from fame to health. (Yes, in Star Wars, Chi is simply called “The Force.”)

Though the study of Feng Shui includes numerology, symbolism, and blessing ceremonies—just to name a few—most people know primarily of Feng Shui’s influence on the physical world, mostly interior design. Through the careful placement of furniture, curated pieces of décor, or the arrangement of walls, doors, windows and mirrors—the Chi can flourish, and in turn, dissipate negative energy.

Handful of precious gems: Bloodstone, White Quartz, Garnet, Flourite, and Pyrite (photo by Anthony Poon)

In similar ways, some believe that certain types of colorful crystals deliver attributes that will benefit your existence. For example, Amethyst provides relaxation, whereas Aventurine offers confidence. Citrine clears negative energy, and Rose Quartz delivers love—perhaps. Clients of architecture purchase crystals of all sizes, from preciously tiny gems that gently rests in one’s palm, to a feature stone gracing an office lobby.

White Quartz, sold at Mystic Journey Crystals, Venice, California (photo from mysticjourneycrystals.com)

Akin to the long history of Feng Shui, stories of crystals date back to the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks. Feng Shui and crystals have much in common in the form of healing. Through a Feng Shui reading of a house, I found problem areas, such as an incorrectly located back door that will drain the Chi from an important corner of the home: the marriage area. The Chinese philosophy then offers “cures” for the compromised architectural design, such as suspending a crystal in the troubled area, which will bring positive energy. Feng Shui goes further: The length of the string that suspends needs to be in a multiple of five or nine, as in 5, 10 or 18 inches. Lucky numbers.

Buddhist Temple, Natural Bridge, Virginia, by Poon Design (photo by Mark Ballogg)

As a certified Feng Shui professional and a member of the International Feng Shui Guild, I do realize how skeptics would say all this is hocus-pocus, an absurd set of rules and beliefs. Like with crystals, how Bloodstone will bring vitality, and Pyrite will result in wealth.

Brazilian blue marble at my house, Roberto Residence, Bel Air, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

But if all this is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, nothing more than hippie astrology, why do so many people believe in such supernatural forces? And why does it actually seem to work?

It is simply because of one thing: intention. You could also call it faith. If we believe that a crystal or a wind chime will bring us prosperity, then perhaps the intention is enough. Is it so different than the baseball player who has his lucky glove? Or perhaps, a beautiful crystal glowing with rainbow beams of light simply makes us smile. And it is this smile that makes our day a good one.

© Poon Design Inc.